Addressing Rape in the DRC

The poor choice of analogy relating to the days of slavery and the Three-Fifths Compromise made by Emory’s President Wagner in a column in the school paper has worked up a media frenzy in which criticism has been persistent and very harsh.

What has not made big news is the efforts on Emory’s campus to address the deplorable plight of the citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who are caught in the cross-fire of conflict over mineral resources that digital technology, such as cell phones and laptops, are dependent upon. Under President Wagner’s leadership, Emory has joined the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative to demand responsible sourcing of minerals from the DRC.

Despite the potential impact of this initiative, it has remained fairly obscure to the public eye.

The independent student newspaper, The Emory Wheel, is to be congratulated for running a front page story in the Oct. 26, 2012 issue about the demonstrations relating to the DR of Congo that have been held on campus since September. Students, faculty and greater Atlanta community members have marched every other week with signs at the main entrance to campus in hopes of sparking public pressure on the U.S. Congress and UN to to stop one of the worst humanitarian crises since the Rwanda genocide: the widespread, violent raping of millions of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The DRC has been coined by the UN as “the rape capital of the world” and “the epicenter of rape being utilized as a weapon of war.” The prevailing culture of rape in this region has triggered enormous displacement of families and communities, contributed to the spreading of HIV/AIDS, and created an unparalleled population of street orphans. Yet, these efforts at Emory haven’t received national coverage.

Instead, Emory is now making national news because Wagner is accused of being insensitive about the history of African-Americans. I question if the media has any concern for the black women and children currently being savagely raped and killed in the DRC, or that people at Emory are taking a leadership role in attempting to stop this.

This also leads one to question the specific responsibility of the media. Is it merely to fan the flames of outrage over the unintentional bad choice of words from a man who has demonstrated many good will gestures towards combatting racism, or to sensationalize a specific topic for the benefit of popular media?

We hope that the media would instead seek to provide a window into the important events happening in the world around us, and the things people are doing in an effort to solve the pressing issues of our time. Instead of hyper-analyzing the terminology used in one particular academic address by an Ivy League school president, how about hyper-analyzing the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and why national media largely turns a blind eye?

Now of course, it makes news when someone prestigious puts his foot in his mouth, and also it’s important to point it out when someone speaks out of turn, but in his defense, President Wagner’s track record at Emory in no way reveals racist undertones. He appears to have genuinely tried to welcome diversity and racial sensitivity at Emory.

For example, he inaugurated the Dalai Lama as presidential distinguished professor in 2007 and has fostered Emory’s affiliate relationship with the Deprung Loseling Monastery, which has barred him from ever being permitted a travel visa to China. Wagner also made news in 2012 when he apologized on behalf of Emory for the treatment of Jewish dental students in the 1950s under Dean John Buhler’s tenure.

Additionally, for the past several years, Emory University has donated the space and resources to host an annual Global Health & Humanitarian Summit where people from all races and religions join together to collaborate on humanitarian aid projects and ideas. In fact, one of the main speakers at last year’s and this year’s summit is Naomi King, the widow of AD King and Martin Luther-King Jr.’s sister-in-law, who has an organization to empower low-income youth so they have a chance in the world. If President Wagner was truly unconcerned about the civil rights of the oppressed, Emory would not be the place that it is.We hope that national media will consider running stories on Emory’s demonstrations for the Democratic Republic of Congo and encourage other campuses across America and around the world to do the same so that global pressure can build, just as it did in pushing for an end to apartheid in South Africa. We hope that the media will see the value in spotlighting the need to send peace-keepers into the DRC to police the multitudes of rapists. The media’s role in promoting social justice can be immense, and we hope the Emory community and the world beyond will join us in demanding socially-responsible reporting.

Marlon Campbell
Goodwill Ambassador to the 2013 Global Health & Humanitarian Summit at Emory University

Neil Shulman MD
Associate Professor, Dept. of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine